First, it’s always nice to hand a glass of something simple and light and tasty to guests as they arrive in your backyard. With summer temperatures soaring, you need something cold and refreshing. The good choice is that trendy Italian sparkling wine called prosecco.
Now, most experts will tell you sparkling wines should be served at 40 to 50 degrees — even a bit warmer for really top champagnes. And I agree. But this is a backyard grilling bash, not a 14-course repast by the Chaine des Rotisseurs.
Prosecco is less hifalutin than champagne, and cheaper. So my advice is to glance around furtively and, when nobody’s watching, pop a few bottles of prosecco in the ice chest — yes, right there beside the beer.
You’ll thank me when that afternoon sun hits your reddening forehead.
On to the meal. Ask yourself — what’s the most prominent flavor you encounter at every grill-out, no matter if you’re doing steaks, burgers, Caesar salad (yes, you can grill the lettuce), garlic bread, zucchini or even, for the more daring, peaches?
It’s the grill mark.
It’s that lovely crosshatch of char that creates the explosion of flavor that says you’re cooking with fire.
It changes everything.
Those compelling black marks on veggies provide a bitterness that can be complemented with a zingy, high-acid sauvignon blanc or contrasted with a fat, buttery California chardonnay.
On a steak, that cowboy-style branding creates a pungency that cries out for a powerful red cabernet sauvignon to match or a sweet and fruity zinfandel or shiraz for contrast.
A special case is that epitome of grilling grandeur, the two-pound, amply marbled, thick and juicy rib-eye steak — rare in the middle, perfectly crosshatched on both sides. This $30 chunk of meat deserves a special red wine — the 2011 Shafer “One Point Five” cab, at $75. On this point it’s go big or go home.
The other painful pleasure of the backyard grill is, of course, spice. Big shrimp, laced with enough hot-pepper sauce and cayenne pepper to make your eyes water. Chicken wings soaked in Buffalo sauce. Lip-lacerating jalapeno poppers stuffed with soothing cream cheese.
For these, I grudgingly admit, you sometimes get beyond the reach of wine. You need beer straight out of that cooler, at 32.1 degrees. Yes, from the cans sitting there beside the bottles of prosecco.
• 2013 Steven Kent Winery "Lola" Sauvignon Blanc, Ghielmetti Vineyard, Livermore Valley: floral aroma, flavors of citrus and spice, crisp and minerally; $24.
• 2011 Shafer Vineyards "One Point Five" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley: big, hearty and complex, with flavors of black raspberries, black cherries, black plums and herbs, ripe tannins, long finish; $75.
• 2012 "Votre Santé Chateau Red," by Francis Ford Coppola, Calif. (syrah, grenache, mourvèdre): ripe black cherry and black coffee flavors, rich and lush, sweet finish; $14.
• Nonvintage "il" Prosecco, Frizzante Prosecco DOC, Italy: soft bubbles, light and lively, ripe golden apple flavors; $10.
• 2013 "Avant" Sauvignon Blanc, by Kendall-Jackson, Calif.: light, crisp and tart, with lemon-lime and mineral flavors; $13.
• 2013 Alamos Chardonnay, Mendoza, Arg.: hint of oak, sweet, ripe pineapples, caramel and cinnamon; $13.
• 2013 Dancing Bull Sauvignon Blanc, Calif.: sweet-tart flavors of kiwis, limes and pineapples, light and crisp; $12.
• 2012 Folie à Deux Chardonnay, Russian River Valley: rich, lush and spicy, with flavors of pineapples and golden apples; $18.
• 2011 Heavyweight Cabernet Sauvignon, by Scotto Cellars, Lodi (cabernet sauvignon, barbera and petite verdot): sweet, full-bodied and hearty, with ripe black plum and chocolate flavors; $13.
• 2011 Amapola Creek Monte Rosso Vineyard Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley: hint of oak, aromas and flavors of red raspberries and blueberries, hearty and full, big, ripe tannins; $42.